Practical tips on Swatching

I’ve talked before about why we swatch, the importance of fabric, and the things that can sometimes go wrong. I’ve even talked about how to accurately measure your swatch (and provided videos, for CustomFit!).

But I don’t think I’ve spoken practically before about how to keep your swatches from lying to you. Which should definitely be fixed. So:


Practical tips for making your swatches tell the truth about your gauge:

  1. Swatch “normally”. Your swatching goal should be to predict, rather than match, your gauge. So be predictive in your swatching! If your knitting time comes between 8:30 and 10:00pm, while you’re watching Sherlock and having a glass of wine, that’s when your swatching time should come, too.
  2. Make your rows long enough so that you ‘knit normally’. Many of us have different knitting motions when we’re faced with 75 or 100 stitches on the needle, vs. 20. Cast on enough stitches that you’re knitting the way you’ll knit a garment. I always cast on 42 stitches, because I am a big ol’ dork, but you can use whatever number you want. Just make sure it’s over 35, okay?
  3. Swatch for long enough to ‘get into your groove’. None of us get into our regular knitting motion within the first inch or two, so you should knit your swatch until it’s tall enough to give you good data. You’ll need at least 5” / 12.5 cm, and I recommend between 6 – 8” (15 – 20.5 cm).
  4. Don’t “block” your swatch. Wash it. It doesn’t matter what gauge you can pin your swatch to. What matters is the gauge your swatch has when it’s been washed and laid flat to dry, because that’s how you’re going to treat your sweater. So don’t pin your swatch. Wash it, and lay it flat to dry. Really dry.
  5. Measure the “good data” parts of your swatch. You went to so much trouble to get into your knitting motion thoroughly and truthfully – don’t pull your gauge sample from the bad part of your swatch. Measure your stitch gauge and row gauge closer to the top of your swatch than the bottom (though not all the way to the edge), and you’ll be sampling from data that’s more likely to match the way you knit your sweater.

  6. swatches-batch-2-17 first-swatch-batch-2 first-swatch-batch-3 first-swatch-batch-1

    So there you have it: Five simple ways to make your swatches tell the truth. Let me know how they work for you – and share your own tips in the comments, if you have them.

    What am I swatching right now? Something for a project I’m pretty freaking excited about


    Stay warm, and happy knitting!

10 thoughts on “Practical tips on Swatching

  1. Yikes! I took a Custom Fit class, and they had us block our swatches to get our gauge. I sure hope my sweater will be OK!

    (I think what you said above though makes absolutely perfect sense.)

    1. Hi Bridget,

      Wet blocking is great — laying flat and smoothing out. Where you’ll run into trouble is stretching and pinning a swatch where you wouldn’t do the same to a sweater. If it’s the first, not to worry, you’re home free 🙂


  2. Here’s something I’ve wondered about for awhile… I don’t always have enough yarn that I can make my swatch and leave it alone. Sometimes I need that yarn for my project! But if the swatch was washed (and maybe blocked, depending on the project) won’t that have an impact on how the yarn behaves within the piece I’m making?

    1. Hi Ann,

      If you’re nervous, you can reskein your swatch yarn, wash it, and let it dry. That said, I usually cheat and knit straight from the swatch! (Amy never runs out of yarn because she’s smarter than I am and buys more yarn 😉


  3. To dry my swatches, I’ve been putting a large cooling rack (the kind that fit inside a jelly roll/baking sheet) over one side of my kitchen sink…carefully laying my swatch flat.

    In my (unpredictable) Ohio weather, it dries in no time…usually overnight!! MUCH quicker then when I’d put it on a blocking mat or towel.

  4. Aloha,

    A recently deceased knitting mentor also did swatches. She did a little trick in the swatch to note the needle size. I noticed in your swatch there appears to be a pattern in the lower right hand corner. Is this to denote the needle size used for the swatch? If so, how did you do it?


    1. Hi Tagati,

      That’s to denote needle size! If the needle is size US 4 (for example), do a yo, k2tog 4 times. The 4 holes will help you remember!


  5. 42 stitches….love it! I immediately got the reference without clicking the link, and I’m so doing that on my next swatch! 🙂

  6. With respect to your comment that we don’t need to pin our swatches because we don’t block our sweaters, I’m not sure I agree, because I do wet block my sweaters once they’re finished, and then pin where necessary to help keep the shape and size correct. This also can be helpful especially with animal fibres as you can cajole the knitting if it has stretched during the wash. As you say, washing the sweater the first time can have a real impact on size and shape and that it can be permanent. By at least semi-blocking the finished garment, one hopes it will make the size you want permanent, and future washing won’t change that overmuch. Having said all that, I don’t block my swatches with pins, I do as you do, just try to make them flat and and the sides as straight as possible, smoothing them into shape. But your experiments with swatches was fascinating – and thank you for all that work.

  7. […] this link to Amy’s post about making sure your swatches don’t lie, before you […]

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